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May 13, 2004

Does Athletic Success = Increased Giving to Pitt?

Have the Pitt Panthers’ (and Lady Panthers’) winning ways and new playing venues translated into increased giving to the University and its athletics department?
Yes, Pitt fund raisers say.
Check out these stats, sports fans:
During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2001, some 3,700 donors contributed $2.1 million in annual gifts to Pitt athletics’ fundraising organization, Team Pittsburgh.
Flash forward through three consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 berths for the men’s basketball team…the opening of the Petersen Events Center…two bowl game appearances by the football team, and the relocation of its home games to Heinz Field…Big East championships for the volleyball team and other non-revenue producing squads…
With two months remaining in FY 2004, Team Pittsburgh already has raised $2.7 million in annual gifts from 3,700 donors – and the organization is on pace to collect $3.6 million in annual gifts from 4,800 donors by the end of the year, according to Maureen Anderson, Pitt assistant athletic director for development.
That would be a gain of $1.5 million (a 70 percent increase) and an addition of 1,100 donors (up by 30 percent) in three years.
To put that in context, annual giving to Pitt overall (including Team Pittsburgh) during FY ’01 totaled $9,581,494. During the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, annual giving stands at $9,576,199 – only 5.5 percent less than the total for all of FY ’01.
So far this year, 34,851 contributors have made annual gifts to Pitt. That’s 17.8 percent higher than the number for FY ’01. Pitt Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Albert Novak was quick to point out that this year’s University-wide annual giving totals should rise significantly by the end of June, when FY ’04 concludes – but not so much that they will match athletics’ rate of fundraising success over the last three years.
“For the University as a whole to have a 70 percent increase in annual giving over three years, as athletics is projected to do, would be mind-boggling,” Novak said.
(“Annual giving” refers to gifts that are repeatable year after year. “Let’s say someone contributes $1 million,” Novak explained. “Unless they’re in a position to give you $1 million every year, we wouldn’t consider that to be an annual gift. Typically, the cutoff point for an annual gift is $25,000.”)
Assistant Athletic Director Anderson, who heads Team Pittsburgh, said giving to athletics had been increasing since the mid-1990s “but it accelerated dramatically with the moves to the Petersen Center and Heinz Field, and with the recent successes of the men’s basketball and football teams in particular.
“I think there’s a real pride among our alumni and friends in being associated with the University of Pittsburgh, and I think they’re really enjoying the successes of our teams. And it’s not just football and basketball but also Olympic sports like volleyball, where we’ve won Big East championships.
“People enjoy coming to the new facilities and they’re supporting Pitt athletics financially, whether that means buying season tickets or making contributions or buying Panthers merchandise,” Anderson continued. “If you go to the mall, you’ll see a lot more Pitt gear than you would have seen five or six years ago.”
Anderson said the University has worked hard to strengthen lines of communication with former Pitt athletes, enticing them back to campus and involving them in University events.
And if such ex-jocks wind up contributing to their alma mater, it’s not as if they limit those gifts to Pitt’s athletics department, she noted. “Many times, they’ll split their gift between athletics and the school or department they attended,” said Anderson.
Gifts to Team Pittsburgh are earmarked for the Panther Athletic Scholarship Fund. But every dollar contributed toward athletic scholarships frees up a dollar for financial aid to non-athletes, noted professors during a recent meeting of the University Senate’s budget policies committee.
Vice Chancellor Novak told the committee that Panther games are “great conveners” – i.e., events that bring together alumni and friends of the University, including potential donors.
He elaborated to the University Times: “I went to the NCAA regional tournament in New Jersey this spring, and when I looked around, some of our best prospects for major gifts to the Honors College and to the Arts and Sciences were all sitting there at those basketball games.
“You can talk to prospects at a basketball game about giving to the economics department, for instance, or the chemistry department,” Novak noted. “These people love Pitt athletics, but they also appreciate the University’s academic needs and ambitions. Alumni, especially, recognize and appreciate their school or department and the faculty who worked with them.”
– Bruce Steele

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